Monday, 4 June 2007

Adjusting to busyness - Harajuku & Shinjuku

Harajuku, Omotesando, Meiji Jingu and Shibuya made for an exciting long day of exploration yesterday. Harajuku remains the epicentre for remarkable 'cosplay' dress-up Tokyo Fruit-style teenage girls and slightly older gothic ones, androgynous boys and curious fixations with puppies, especially dressing them up too. I realised in retrospect, that whether it is the kimono, the gothic, the flowery pink hello kitty girl, the Elizabethan maid or fake bandages, there is something upsetting about the need these young people feel to be something other than themselves and to try out various enigmas. I suppose all this pretending is useful for discovery and experimentation and obviously might be fun but the downside is it's costly, perhaps psychotic and not always very positive. However, you have to envy the courage and flare of some of the ingenious home-grown outfits. Being Saturday, Harajuku Dori was adrift with thousands of people milling from shop to shop in this fashionable neighbourhood, (see flickr photoset) not only in terms of clothing, but also concept stores [such as kDDi designs and mobile technologies], design studios and many independent artist outlets and galleries.

As one modulates towards Omotesando, the costume stores give way to 'adult' costumes of expensive designer labels and the renowned architecture of the Prada building and many quirky others. I was disappointed to find a dearth of photographic opportunities on the Harajuku station bridge next to the gates of Meiji Jingu (Shrine) where Saturday is supposed to render the circus of dress-up camaraderie that the district is famous for. Yesterday must have been an exception. Immediately, as you wander up the majestic tree-lined driveway to the shrine, the hustle and bustle of the city gives way in a remarkable transformation in the hub of Tokyo, to stillness, comparative quiet, the dark greenness of the canopy of ancient trees and manicured pine-tops. Here I picked up some intriguing Yamacha - mountain tea that literally looks like leaves scooped off the forest floor with a potent earthy flavour but lacking the bitterness of green tea. In the evening I headed to Shibuya where a prepaid mobile phone was reserved for me at SoftBank. This took a little while to organise so I briefly reconnoitred in Tokyu Hands while the phone was being initiated.

Today, I went for my first long run/walk in the humid heat, leaving it a little bit too late to depart, investigating the nearby University campus and then several kilometers into some nameless suburbs which did not eventuate in anywhere recognisable, though I hope to figure out the path to Shimo on foot shortly, aided by the mapbook I bought at Kinokuniya bookshop this afternoon. In the afternoon I roamed around Shinjuku because Kinokuniya there has a large English book section and on the west side of the station (a few blocks underground) lies the Epsite Epson Image Gallery showing the penultimate day of Kayo Ume "Boys" photography exhibition in the towering office building part of town. The crowds were out in force for weekend shopping, a tokyo-ite recreation, in Shinjuku main streets 3-chrome and Shinjuku dori, while roads were closed to auto traffic to amass the pedestrian sprawl and hubbub. This ended with a deliciously tasty kushiage (charcoal grilled skewer) meal consisting of shitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, enoki mushrooms wrapped in pork and traditional chicken yakitori with shallots. The semi-dark intimate setting of these underground kitchens with enormous extractor fans over grills and sweating chefs, the clientelle seated around the cooking 'pit' exude a cosy inn-like atmosphere that is warm and cheery. Tonight I practised shakuhachi for the first time - it sounds wonderfully but deceptively loud in this little box of a room but happily masked by railway sounds has not yet moved a neighbour to protest and shaky seems rather happy with his native humidity and climate, sounding good. Tomorrow it's off to the University to meet Professor Hori at RCAST (Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology) and some rather rapid journal paper writing.

[Harajuku, kDDi concept store, $63 watermelon and fan-aerated trousers]